Book notice: Emotions and Multilingualism

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Aug 16 15:05:04 UTC 2006

Forwarded from Linguist-List,

AUTHOR: Pavlenko, Aneta
TITLE: Emotions and Multilingualism
SERIES: Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press, 2006

Reviewer: Julie Bruch, Department of Languages, Literature, and
Communication, Mesa State College

Emotions and Multilingualism provides a comprehensive overview of research
done in the field of emotions and language, which is analyzed and added to
with the author's own work and thinking. Three main uses of this book are
obvious. It is appropriate for use in graduate courses in
psycholinguistics, anthropological linguistics, or second language
acquisition (SLA) theory and bilingualism. It will also be of use as a
model and reference for anyone interested in doing research on either
emotions or multilingualism. And third, bilingual or multilingual
individuals who are interested in interpreting their own experiences, will
find this book to be of great significance. (From here, the word
''bilingual'' will be used generically to refer to both bilinguals and
multilinguals.) The book includes two perspectives on the topic: one from
the field of emotion studies and one from the field of multilingualism. In
this way, specialists in one field who may not be deeply studied in the
other are given sufficient grounding to understand the research and ideas
presented. The author states in the preface that the traditional approach
to both linguistic inquiry and inquiry about the human mind has been based
on a monolingual ideal speaker, and since a real minority of the world's
language users are not monolingual, the resulting theories cannot be truly
representative of what is a ''messy, heteroglossic, and multilingual''
reality (p. xii).

The first chapters of the book introduce how emotions studies are
necessary for studies of multilingualism and vice versa, and later
chapters go in-depth through the levels of language sounds, semantics and
concepts, and discourse as they correlate with and express emotions, and
finally, the neurophysiology of emotions and the social influences on
emotions are related to language and multilingualism. In the eighth and
last chapter of the book, suggestions are presented for integrating the
two fields of emotions studies and multilingualism studies.


In the first chapter, the Pavlenko raises questions about Chomsky's using
an idealized monolingual native speaker to make generalizations about
language and human cognition. She suggests that the Chomskian tradition
has been the source of a deep-seated inherent bias in research methodology
and analyses, much in the same way that gender bias in the past affected
research models in many different fields. She suggests that language
competence (even in L1) is not the homogeneous and relatively unchangeable
property that many researchers seem to presuppose (e.g., MacWhinney 1997).
She emphasizes that many factors point to an opposing reality; that is,
bilingual speakers have a uniquely formed linguistic and emotional system
that rather than being composed of two monolingual systems, is in fact a
compound and dynamic system of multicompetence (as theorized by others as
well, namely, Cook (1991) and Grosjean (1998)). The author's argument is
that the study of bilingualism is a necessary component in the study of
emotions in the fields of linguistics, psychology, and anthropology, and
she advocates an overall reassessment of research methodology and
reporting procedures.

Chapter two argues that the fields of SLA and bilingualism can be greatly
enriched by the study of emotions, and Pavlenko surveys extant work in
this area. She points out that extant research demonstrates that in
monolingual societies, bilinguals have been avoided or treated as
problematic, and in multilingual societies, bilingualism has been ignored
since it is the norm.  Other work from the field of psychology shows a
long history of looking at correlations between pathological identity
formation and discriminating use of first language (L1) and second
languages (L2) by subjects. It is these metaphors of a split identity that
have somewhat incorrectly informed writing on SLA and bilingualism. The
author suggests that while Krashen's well-known Monitor Model (most
recently in 1994) and others have developed theories relating affect and
the acquisition of second languages, they are reductionist in nature. She
notes that affective constructs such as anxiety, motivation, self-esteem,
risk-taking, and tolerance of ambiguity that are frequently cited in the
literature on language learning and acquisition may be relevant to
classroom learners in a monolingual society, but they are not
representative of the diverse emotional factors that play a role in
bilingualism in the greater contexts of language learning and use.
Pavlenko then outlines the few studies that do indeed consider more
contextualized aspects of bilingualism point toward the existence of
distinct emotional repertories connected to distinct languages, and
summarizes the methodology used in her own large-scale study (a two-year
web questionnaire involving 1,039 bilingual participants). Her main
premise in suggesting the need for revised research models is that ''there
is no single coherent story to be told about the relationship between
emotions and multilingualism,'' and she strongly asserts that future work
should avoid the traditional unitary and narrow views of affect and
language that were common in the past.

Chapter three is the first of three chapters that break language into its
components for analysis of their interaction with emotions. This chapter
explains ways in which vocal cues signal emotions in different languages
and explores the ways in which both monolinguals and bilinguals interpret
the emotions behind vocal cues in different languages. Pavlenko provides
numerous examples of pitch, intonation, stress and loudness, and rhythm
that signal different emotional states across different languages. She
stresses that vocal cues are inherently ambiguous and dependent on
individual speaker and context, but she summarizes work that demonstrates
that interpreting emotions based on vocal cues is accurate to a degree
greater than chance even for non-native speakers of a language. She also
gives examples of how the misinterpretation of vocal cues across languages
can be problematic, including the context of psychological evaluations.
She points out that many more studies comparing the prosody of
conventionalized emotional signals are needed, both intralanguage and
cross-linguistically. Very importantly, in this chapter, Pavlenko
summarizes and comments on numerous research models, concluding that
future work on affective cues in language needs to delineate more
carefully a multitude of factors such as linguistic and cultural
background of participants, level of anxiety, gender, length of speech
samples, etc. At a practical level, she mentions the fact that although
vocal cues are often the most important aspect of expressing and
interpreting affect and are often part of language transfer from L1 to L2,
vocal cues to emotions are not usually taught in language classrooms.

Chapter four moves into the area of mental lexicon and semantic concepts
as they relate to emotions. Pavlenko offers several subjective accounts of
language users who have learned to feel different emotions through
different languages, and she makes the point that since emotion terms do
not correspond neatly across languages, these subjective accounts make
sense. She goes on to present three competing paradigms currently used for
conceptualizing the relationship between emotion terms in language, the
mental representations of those terms, and the experiences of language
users. The author argues in detail for her stance of defining and framing
her approach based on ''a process view of emotions'' (p. 80), in which
emotion concepts are formed through experience (relativist paradigm) and
through physiological or biological states that accompany them
(universalist paradigm). She goes on to summarize findings to date on
cross-linguistic comparisons of emotion terms, which leads her to ask how
bilinguals represent emotions. Ten studies based on a variety of research
methodologies are outlined and critiqued. Some of the most interesting
results of these studies point toward the fact that bilinguals appear to
reconceptualize their emotions as they become socialized into their other
language(s). Several studies indicate that emotion categories themselves
are borrowed across languages together with the borrowing of words or with
code switching. At the practical level, the author highlights the
importance of this type of knowledge for legal, clinical, and academic
contexts. She ends the chapter by suggesting ways to refine and improve
future research and adds some questions that still need to be addressed in
the research.

In chapter five, the author covers the discourse level of language and
emotions. Discourse has only recently become the subject of study for
emotions because it was long perceived as too difficult to objectify. Two
currently developing paradigms for research are introduced, and Pavlenko
adopts the view that instead of communicating emotions, we ''perform
affect'' (p. 115) in various ways. She indicates that we use discourse
strategies such as: terms of address, hedges, intensifiers, pronoun
choice, diminutives, tag questions, tense, mood, voice, word order,
narrative structures, register, and turn-taking to assume different
affective personae in different contexts. This leads to several questions
in the case of bilinguals. Do they use distinct affective styles in their
distinct languages, and if so, how are those choices made? Is there
cross-linguistic influence? Results of studies of discourse show that
bilinguals often feel that one of their languages is better suited for
capturing or experiencing certain emotions, that language attrition may be
accompanied by attrition of certain types of emotion frames, and that
there is bidirectional influence of languages on emotion
conceptualization.  Again the author closes the chapter by suggesting that
foreign language classes need to teach learners how to perform affect, and
she presents ways in which to improve future research.

Chapter six moves away from the components of language into the area of
neurophysical responses related to emotions when different languages are
used by bilingual speakers. There is evidence here that L1 is more closely
attached to the limbic system of the brain (which processes emotions), and
other evidence points to the idea that emotional memories are more
strongly associated with L1. Pavlenko explains the ''L2 detachment
effect'' (p.  158), which both allows bilinguals to undergo psychotherapy
for trauma in the second language and allows bilinguals to use taboo words
more easily in the second language. Other interesting findings are the
''language congruity effect'' and the ''language specificity effect'' (p.
177) which both relate memories elicited by L1 to higher emotional
intensity. There is a discussion of translingual writers and their choices
of which language they use in their writing. The author ends the chapter
with a criticism of most studies as still holding the view that a
bilingual is two isolated monolinguals in one body, and says that many
other dynamics need to be factored into future research.

Chapter seven explores how language choices are based on social identities
and power relations, which by nature are tied to emotions. Pavlenko
details the ways in which emotional investments are made in particular
languages by bilinguals because of the social or cultural character types
linked to those languages. She presents case studies of L1 rejection and
attrition linked to emotional attitudes (specifically German speakers
during the Nazi occupation). Also presented are studies of deep love for
new language tied to romantic allegiances. Since language use is always at
some level an act of identity, and our identities are constantly in flux,
the author suggests that as our emotions change over time, so our language
investments will be complex and even contradictory at times.

In chapter eight, Pavlenko sketches some general directions for
integrating multilingual approaches into the study of language and
emotions and some directions for integrating the study of emotions into
the study of multilingualism. She emphasizes the importance of
triangulation in future work. She calls for increased naturalistic studies
and more collaborative analyses that involve communication between
participants, informants, native speakers, and researchers as part of
research. She also explains the overall need for much more careful
reporting that will make analytic choices, criteria, results, and contexts
more explicit. She ends with a plea for theorists to stop believing that
sufficient data can be garnered from monolinguals, saying that it is
irresponsible not to use bilinguals for linguistic and psychological
theory building.


Each chapter of this book resonates with ideas, questions, experiences,
and emotions that will be intimately familiar to many bi/multi-lingual
language users. The author's strategy of viewing emotions through
different lenses, varying through the viewpoints of emotions as states, as
mental concepts, as processes, or as relationships is very effective in
achieving her stated purpose of changing the unitary way we think about
affect in language.  While running the risk of sounding
self-contradictory, she successfully enables the reader to approach the
subject from multi-faceted viewpoints, which contributes to understanding
rather than causing confusion.

The author organizes the book systematically and effectively. She opens
each chapter with subjective accounts and personal experiences of
individuals in order to lead into key questions to be explored in the
chapter. She explicitly states the goals of each chapter, presents the
extant theoretical paradigms, summarizes key pieces of evidence, lists and
discusses noteworthy factors found in the research, and finally summarizes
the findings of studies and their implications and suggests directions for
future research. (The last section in each chapter is entitled
''Conclusions and Implications for Future Research.'' I found these
sections to be reiterative enough that I felt part of the section title
should be ''Summary'' rather than ''Conclusions.'') Studies ranging from
several decades ago up to the most recent work are listed in tables in
each chapter. The tables include both research procedures and findings.

In chapter three (the first of the language component chapters), there are
a great number of studies, examples, and narratives, which are all
interesting, but this reviewer found them to be too extensive in that they
reiterate over and over the point that vocal cues are problematic to
interpret within and across languages a point on which many readers do not
need much convincing. However, her outlining of many studies is valuable
in that it offers a number of research designs which can be taken as
models for further research.

In chapter four, Pavlenko defends her rather revolutionary view of
conceptualizing emotions very successfully. She carefully formulates four
valid arguments to support her view of emotions as processes. Especially
convincing is her argument that emotion concepts are by nature embedded in
other systems, such as moral or power systems, which are context-dependent
and negotiable. Again, in this chapter, she lists ample examples of
various types of research already done, and she makes insightful and
practical suggestions for how better to approach research on emotion
conceptualization and language.

In chapter five, the author continues her pattern of summarizing important
studies in the field, critiquing them, and suggesting ways to improve. She
stated at the beginning of the book that her stance is nontraditional,
with a multifaceted approach. I found this approach through the three
chapters on components of language to be refreshing and well-suited to the
complexities of the topic. There are just a couple of spots where details
of Spanish were incorrect (p. 84 states that the verb ''ser'' is used to
express location) or oversimplified (p. 118 states that ''mamita'' means
daughter), but other language examples from Japanese appear to be

Overall, the book is user-friendly, comprehensive, insightful, and
though-provoking. Its perspective being interdisciplinary, many types of
readers will find it useful. I recommend it most highly.


Cook, V. (1991) The poverty of the stimulus argument and multicompetence.
Second Language Research, 7, 2, 103-117.

Grosjean, F. (1998) Studying bilinguals: Methodological and conceptual
issues. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 2, 131-149.

Krashen, S. (1994) The input hypothesis and its rivals. In N. Ellis (ed.)
Implicit and explicit learning of languages. New York: Academic Press, pp.

MacWhinney, B. (1997) Second language acquisition and the competition
model. In DeGroot, A. and J. Kroll (eds.) Tutorials in bilingualism:
Psycholinguistic perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 113-142.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Julie Bruch is Associate Professor of English and
Linguistics at Mesa State College in Colorado, U.S.A. Her research
interests are second language acquisition and cross-cultural comparisons
of aspects of discourse.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list